Christian Pastor: This Is Why Those Bigger, More Popular Churches Are Doing It Wrong

Question: How do you get atheists to listen to a church sermon?

Answer: You spend an hour talking about how those other, bigger, more popular churches are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad places.

Say hello to our friend Pastor Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona. The good stuff begins at the 1:48 mark:

You know, the church that you’re sitting in right now, Faithful Word Baptist Church, is not the type of church that most Christians are sitting in this morning. It just simply isn’t. The vast majority of Christians today are sitting in churches that would be classified as a “new evangelical church” or the “megachurch” movement.

What I like to call “The Fun Center.” The “fun” church. And, basically, there’s a movement today getting away from the old paths, getting away from old-fashioned preaching, getting away from an old-fashioned Bible-believing church, and it’s this modern, new church, newfangled, rock-and-roll, NIV, party, fun type of a church. And it’s not a biblical church.

And I’m gonna explain to you what’s wrong with that movement. Because not only is the church that you’re sitting in not that type of church, but Faithful Word Baptist Church does not even want to begin to resemble this type of movement in any way, shape, or form.

You say, “Why don’t you do things a little more like… CORNERSTONE?!” Down in Chandler [Arizona]. *Fake gasp* Can’t believe you just named the name!

Because I’ve seen their billboards. They put up a sign that said, “Church for people who don’t like church.” Well, that’s not me, I love church! I love the Bible! I love the Lord Jesus Christ! I’m not looking for a church that’s geared toward people who don’t like church, and then they had another one up that said, “Religion…” — and I’m gonna tone this down for you — “Religion stinks.” It said something worse than that, but I’m just gonna give you, you know, my toned-down version. It said “Religion stinks.”

No it doesn’t! No, it doesn’t stink! Religion is a good thing. And I’m gonna preach to you, biblically-speaking, why that whole movement is misguided and why we are not changing, and why we are not gonna change with the times, we’re not gonna become a “contemporary” type church.

We are gonna stay a traditional, old-fashioned, Bible-believing, Bible-preaching church. Until Doomsday.

According to Anderson, the number one problem with those churches is that they spend too much time trying to reach out to unchurched people and not enough time preaching to the already-converted.

And apparently the logic behind cleverly-worded billboards is lost on him.

Because a movement only grows when you only talk to people who already agree with you.

Infighting is fun!

Side note: A lot of you have been wondering what this church looks like beyond the view we see in the video. Let’s satisfy that curiosity:

It seats about 70 people by my count.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • duke_of_omnium

    Just looking at the picture, I thought, “that ‘church’ has all the charm and sacredness of an office park.” Then I googled the address, and I found out I was right. Office park churches, of course, are for those times when regular church just isn’t quite tacky enough.

  • JWH

    Doctrinal stuff aside, I think there’s a point about traditional vs. “fun” churches. Maybe it’s just my cultural biases talking, but even as an atheist I find traditional church services and traditional churches moving and beautiful on some level. Even when I visit an empty traditional church, I find a certain level of serenity inside. And services themselves, particularly those that incorporate organ or orchestral music, have a certain beauty to them.

    These megachurches … I’ve been to a couple of their services. They’re “fun,” I suppose. But they lack the beauty and serenity of a traditional worship service. They’re more like a Justin Bieber concert.

  • coyotenose

    Oh noes, not Deep Rifts!

    he thinks that MOST Christians go to those monstrosities? Dude is not competent enough to be standing on a podium without a safety net. I drive about 15 miles to work, and there are least fifty churches I could pass on the way there between the city and highway routes. Of those, maybe five are especially big, but only two of those are not venerable landmarks around which the cities grew. There are at least ten homes along the same routes with multiple giant crosses in the yards.

    There are also two houses with mailboxes shaped like wide-mouth bass, and one couple who has, I kid you not, mounted their mailbox on a 15′ high pole with an attached sign that reads “Air Mail”. I assume they have a PO box.

  • blasphemous_kansan

    >>”We are gonna stay a traditional, old-fashioned, Bible-believing, Bible-preaching church. Until Doomsday.”

    I guess the philosophy doesn’t extend to attempting to achieve the setting of a “…traditional, old-fashioned, Bible-believing, Bible-preaching church. (paying rent) Until Doomsday”.

  • ElizabethS

    This guy; YES! love this pastor, its like a horror story. *grabs popcorn*

  • A3Kr0n

    I saw his picture, and I’m not reading one word. He’s irrelevant.

  • Rich Wilson

    I think it’s time to perform an intervention on Hemant.

    Hemant, if your browser suddenly refuses to load anything from Steven Anderson- trust us, it’s for your own good.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    I don’t necessarily agree with him, but I find that I hate mega-churches way more than the small traditional churches. Talk about spending your money on the wrong things.

  • decathelite

    I’m glad to see this church is practicing traditional old fashioned Biblical values by letting women sit next to the men.

  • Kirby_G

    If he reaches at most 70 people, who by his own admission don’t talk to anyone else, why are you/we giving him a multiple-thousand person audience? Let him stay insignificant. It’s not like his words are actually relevant to anyone, even other Christians.

    The more you quote him and we all stand and tut-tut his words, the more his little persecution complex makes him think he’s right.

    Please stop giving this guy a reason to feel like his opinion matters.

  • coyotenose

    They have over 9,000 subscribers and 10,000,000 views. Those numbers are going to go up, not down.

    It’s well-established that people like this thrive on NOT being criticized. It allows them to attract followers who aren’t familiar with the nastier parts, indoctrinate them before they learn better, get money from them, and expand. The Internet is for exposing slime, not sitting by quietly while they ramp up their efforts.

  • coyotenose

    Yes I am aware that he is not standing ON a podium. Hesh.

  • SeekerLancer

    I agree. To me the mega churches seem like the fast food of churches designed just to make their preachers millionaires. It doesn’t make their message any better or worse but they’re such a thinly veiled business.

    I knew a self-aware Catholic priest who used to have a sign on his desk that said “This is a non-profit organization… but it doesn’t turn out that way.” That’s basically the mega churches in a nutshell.

  • Stonyground

    I have not attended a religious service since I was about Thirteen, the age that my parents decided that I was responsible enough to be left at home for an hour and a half. I loathed pretty much every second that I spent in that Chapel. The only exceptions that I can think of were Christmas and Harvest Festival services which were slightly less unpleasant. I recall that the organist was very good and would play a piece by JS Bach as everyone was filing in, the pipe organ was a plus.
    Living in the UK, I don’t pass a single church on my 11 mile jouney to work, unless you count the chapel that I used to attend which was long ago converted into a house.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Yeah, but surely they’re not menstruating.

  • Houndentenor

    As a child growing up in the Southern Baptist church I think I heard more talks about what was wrong with all the other churches than about what our church believed and why. For reasons obvious to anyone reading this blog, it’s quite easy to pick apart someone else’s theology. Justifying your own interpretation of the Bible as the only valid one is impossible. It’s very easy to find quotes of pastors of religion A telling us why religious leader B is wrong. That can, of course, come back to bite you in the ass, like Billy Graham endorsing Mitt Romney for president and having to remove Mormons from his website’s list of cults on the same day.

  • Houndentenor

    As a musician, I attend church services often. As a classically trained musician I am not hired for (nor would I accept) a job doing “Jesus is my boyfriend” songs. But Bach’s (and many others’) church music is great art, regardless of what one thinks of the theology. That the contemporary church would jettison centuries of music of the highest quality for cheap imitations of pop music tells us just about everything we need to know about the state of religion in America.

  • Marco Conti

    Let me guess: Michelangelo did not paint their ceiling.

  • SeekerLancer

    Every church has its “the other churches are wrong because…” speech. They need something to keep people from experimenting with different brands.

    I remember for Catholics it was “other churches don’t believe that Jesus is truly present at communion and aren’t partaking in the real body and blood of Christ” which was kind of creepy really.

  • Marco Conti

    I was born in Rome. In fact I was baptized in St. Peter. I still have the little medal to prove it.

    I have been an atheist since I was 9 years old, but I have always had a penchant for churches. Except when they are not full of people, that is.

    In Rome, especially in the historic center, there is literary a church in every corner. Some are tiny and from the outside you would think they were just as modest on the inside. Once you enter, they are indeed quite small, but the artwork, the inlays, statues and so forth are priceless.

    Of course, they are in a city where the public drinking fountains would be considered priceless monuments if somehow they were transported to the US.

    As much as I despise many of their beliefs and I cannot fathom worshiping a god, I used to enjoy immensely sitting in the pews and contemplate the beautiful inlaid floors, the mosaics and the incredible ornaments. And my mind would go to the artisans that made those things.

    There are a few churches in Rome that are converted Pagan temples and sitting there imagining all the people that walked through the building is a very humbling feeling as well as giving you an appreciation of history no book can provide. There is something indescribable about sitting on a stone bench where people sat over 2000 years before. And the fact they used to be pagan temples gives you even more perspective on the role of religion in society. Different gods, same place of worship.

  • curtcameron

    Don’t you think that the vast majority of their YouTube subscribers and views are from people like Hemant (and those of us who click his link)? I would wager that most of those are watching just to see how crazy Christians can be.

  • smrnda

    Traditional churches and contemporary megachurches are both bad for different reasons. I sometimes find the attempt to make church ‘hip’ and culturally relevant to be a desperate seeming move that pretty much insults the intelligence of the person they’re trying to reach. Totally, all the unbelievers weren’t going to church because they didn’t play electric guitars, and this is going to get them in the door. Why would an person who doesn’t go to church go to one because it’s churning out some recycled grade B imitation of current pop culture?

    It’s bad marketing based on the idea that people don’t look beyond packaging, and most people aren’t that dumb.

  • Marco Conti

    My last post made me remember an episode that happened when I was in High School, back in the 70′s.

    I think Houndentenor below (or above) would appreciate this one, even though it’s pretty OP with the article.

    That day and friend and I cut school (or teachers were on strike) and we ended up walking by the Pantheon. One of those pagan temples turned into catholic church.

    Famously the Pantheon has a big hole in the dome and it actually rains inside. It was raining so a thick shaft of rain was visible in the center.

    Eventually a very old guy, easily over 80 years old, approached us and asked us why we weren’t in school. We chatted a bit and eventually we told him that we were both students at the nearby conservatory of Santa Cecilia. At that, he brightened up and told us he was just going to test the newly refurbished pipe organ and if we waited a few minutes he would play something for us.

    What followed was an experience that still bring tears to my eyes every time I think of it or I listen to organ music.

    One moment the only sound was that of the odd pillar of rain in the center of this vast round church, next the pipe organ started playing J.S.Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor (of course, what else?).

    We were the only people in the whole church, which lent the whole experience an even more surreal vibe. The organist in the pantheon is in a separate alcove so we could not see the organ, but we could hear it and feel the bass notes through the floor easily.

    We both became very emotional through the experience and remembering it still gives me goosebumps to this day.

    Of course, in the middle of the performance the sun came out while it was still raining (a pretty common occurrence in Rome) and naturally a beam of light came through the hole in the cupola, reflecting in the raindrops, making the whole thing even more surreal. I think the Vatican must have a special effect department for things like that. What are the odds?

  • Matt Dillahunty

    From a Biblical point-of-view, he’s right…and I’m amazed that Westboro hasn’t already partnered with him. He’s actually very good at what he does and despite having a tiny church, his message and style will have a much broader appeal to people raised in fundamentalist, Biblical-literalist traditions, like many old-school Southern Baptists.

  • liu

    It must be fun to belive that everyone but you and a small group of your followers are going to be tortured forever forbeong bad people. It must befun to think that you and your small group of followers are the only good people in the world.

  • TMJ

    Seriously, Hemant, get a hobby and stop directing traffic to this guy. You’re clearly spreading his ‘Word’ better than he is.

  • jps

    Yes, he’s likely standing ON a podium, or more likely on a platform that fills the alcove at the end of the room. He has his notes on a lectern, and it would be very silly if he were standing on that.
    This pedantic quibble comes from growing up in the Lutheran Church, where we used liturgical names for the areas of the room and the furnishings in it. On one side of the altar there is the pulpit, from where the pastor delivered the sermon. On the other side is the lectern, used for the bible readings and other announcements.
    The “pod” in “podium” comes from “foot”. If you don’t put your foot on it, it’s not a podium. Think conductor’s podium.
    Yes, I’m quite aware that I’m losing this effort to keep “podium” used properly.

  • indorri

    Unless you’re talking about mass or services similar to it, I have to say that traditional Evangelical-style services are hackneyed crap. It’s no wonder they have to try and spice it up with the megachurch image.

  • Lori F – MN

    Let the drinking game begin!

  • JWH

    That sounds like a truly beautiful experience. Thank you for sharing.

  • Stev84

    There are a lot of “churches” like that in America

  • Stev84

    Take that, Mark Driscoll

  • Bubbba

    Reading the NIV translation? Oh the horror.

  • allein

    My mom sometimes mentions the “Praise Band” that their church (Methodist) now has. I’ve never heard them but the idea makes me cringe.

  • allein

    Question: How do you get atheists to listen to a church sermon?

    Answer: You spend an hour talking about how those other, bigger, more popular churches are terrible, horrible, no good, very bad places.

    Nope, still don’t wanna listen to him.

  • allein

    I agree; I like old churches. My aunt and uncle attended a small, old church in a nearby town and at her funeral last year, while they were praying, I found myself looking around at all the decoration (the ceiling was especially pretty). And there’s just something about the sort of muffled acoustics in a lot of old churches that makes me feel a sense of calm. Not far from their church is an old church which is actually a historical building and was converted into a real estate office (a long time ago; it’s been an office as long as I remember, but you wouldn’t know it except for the Weichert sign out front). My aunt was actually involved in getting it done, and worked as an agent there until she retired. She hooked me up with them for my mortgage and when I went to meet with the mortgage guy was the first time I’d actually been inside. Even though it’s been an office for decades, it still “feels” like a church inside (and still has all the old stained glass).

    I’ve only experienced megachurches through videos on TV or the web, but I’ve seen nothing that would make me want to go visit one (I don’t know of any in my area that might be classified as “mega-”).
    I can only think of 3 or 4 churches and one synagogue, off the top of my head, that I pass on my usual route to work (about 14 miles). They’re all pretty small. Then there’s the house with “Covered by the blood of our lord Jesus Christ” painted in big white letters on their driveway which I don’t even know what to say about…

  • Keulan

    The words ‘church’ and ‘fun’ do not go well together.

  • coyotenose

    Oh some definitely. Dozens, possibly hundreds. Not thousands. There would be thousands of such people watching a channel that *mocked* this guy and that trimmed the videos a bit to show us the highlights.

  • coyotenose

    In MY country, we use words how we likes, not how they means, Pal!


    *hangs head in shame for even saying that jokingly*

  • Dal Bryn

    I have seen videos of Anderson before and always wondered if there are actually people listening. It was interesting to see the picture of the actual seating. For some reason, I thought this guy was yelling at 5 people in his basement.

  • mountainguy

    Well, then a little strange I attend an even smaller church (mennonite) that, while keeping a little tradition, is also “liberal” (very unlike Anderson´s church). Anyway, There is more than just “tradition vs christianized pop”. And which “old ways”? I am pretty sure Anderson has criticised a lot of traditional ways and traditional churches (catholic, mainline protestantism, eastern orthodoxy). This guy is more what I would call a “discermentalist”: evangelical (or low-church protestant), probably calvinist, obsessed with doctrinal purity, which makes him a fundamentalist finding heresies in everyone who doesn’t have his way.

    BTW, I write “liberal” because its not exactly theologically liberal. Maybe neoorthodox with some liberation theology leaning.

  • will killian

    It becomes nearly tolerable if you play this as background music:

  • Paula M Smolik

    I love the reference to the book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”.

  • Paula M Smolik

    Before I completely stopped going to church, I went to more and more traditional churches. Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Flying Spaghetti Monster.

  • Paula M Smolik

    Bach D minor, trite….I would rather have heard St. Saens’ 3rd.